Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Crucible

This tribute to our soldiers, which I first saw many months ago, is making the rounds again via e-mail and blogs. Have a look (with the sound turned up). You might need some kleenex.

Watching it again brought to mind a theme that I've been thinking about. Probably the best work of sociology of the last 25 years is the book Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe (1992). If you haven't read it, you really need to, along with their books 13th Gen, and Millenials Rising: The Next Great Generation.

The authors' fascinating (as well as strongly and entertainingly supported) thesis is that, due to the human lifespan and the length of a reproductive generation, there are really only four basic generational types, which affect each other through their relationships as children, parents, grandparents, elderly, adults at different stages of their working lives, etc. One effect is that generations respond and react to the way they were raised, children reacting against the permissiveness of their parents by being stricter with their own children (and vice versa), for example. The authors provide evidence for their thesis by examing how the generational types have manifested themselves during the previous few hundred years of American history.

The four generational types we are all familiar with are the "Greatest Generation" (example: World War II soldiers), "Silent Generation" (too young to participate in WW II, too old to be hippies, example: my parents), Boomers (what more can I say?), and X-ers (My generation. You know, the bowling-shirt-wearing, goateed dot-commer ironists whose previous analog is the Great Gatsby flapper-era Jazz Age nihilists).

Now, as it turns out according to the thesis, even as it was spelled out in 1992, the kids of the age to be in Iraq are not X-ers at all. They're too young. Strauss and Howe call them Millenials, and they are in the same place in the generational wheel as the "Greatest Generation", with many of the same attributes.

I believe that part of the liberal panic about Iraq is that they know full well at some level that an entire generation of young people is being irrevocably lost to their ethos. Iraq is not Vietnam. It is the anti-Vietnam. Iraq (and Afghanistan, and anywhere else we actively fight the WoT, but I'll just use the term "Iraq" to encapsulate this) is the crucible in which this generation is being formed. The whole "hippie liberal" period between the mid 60's and now is being irrevocably and distinctly capped off. It has no future, and as time progresses, will be seen as a curiosity. The future does not belong to the people "of" that era.

The Iraq experience will result in young adults who might as well be in a different universe from the "boomer hippies". Offering your life by defending your country against a direct threat, while liberating 50 million people in the process, all the while having your efforts belittled and slandered by the partisans of the previous dispensation, will do that to you. This is a new generation that is just, just entering into adulthood. The changes they will work on American society are going to be absolutely profound, and will be completely different than anything the tired old libs are hoping for. Hence the panic.

Bringing it closer to home, my Mom has a friend about her age who has a 23 year old son. This son has spent the last 5 years essentially "failing to thrive" at college, dropping courses, unable to decide on a major, and frittering away his time on aimless pursuits. Finally the University dropped him from its rolls. After working at some odd jobs, this boy informed his mother that he had decided to become a long-distance trucker, and would be going to Georgia to spend 6 months at truck school, after which he was obligated to spend six months as a trucker, otherwise he's have to forfeit $3,000. Two weeks after he left for Georgia, he called his mother and told her the real plan. He was actually now at Fort Benning, training for Special Forces, with the intention of going to Iraq.

My Mom told me all this as if it were a tragedy. Well, not at all, the way I see it.

In a later conversation my Mom said that some of her friends were saying it's 1973 all over again. I reminded her that she'd also read Generations, so she ought to know that 30 years is way too short a time to cycle through a particular kind of generational era again.

There's a different kind of thing happening, something that most of us are just too young to remember...

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